My dog, Oscar, is almost 9-years-old, and started biting his nails a few years ago. Why does he bite them? Is there anything I can do to help him stop? If it's anxiety how can I help? I'm just confused and concerned.
There really is no pattern to when he bites them. It's always when he is just laying around, he never stops mid activity to bite them. I'm not sure if he bites them when we're away. He does get very protective of his nails, say if you are touching them to just look at them he gets very alert.
The front paw carry a very potent behavior message and dogs who view their owners as lower-ranking and in need of their protection who lack the confidence to handle this responsibility often resist having their paws held and their nails messed with. Possibly as an extension of this, more introverted dogs may then focus on their nails as a way to get rid of stress, sort of like some people chew theirs to do the same thing. Other times dogs may start with a legitimate injury that causes them to lick, but then the owner's response causes the dog to continue doing this to gain or maintain those peoples' attention. If the owner reacts negatively to this---"Skppy, stop that!" Don't chew! Bad dog!"-- that will increase the stress on the dog and also einforce the behavior. Try either calmly ignoring your dog when he displays this behavior or distracting him with a toy or other activity BEFORE he has a chance to do this. I emphasized that BEFORE because if you do this after he's already chewing, you'll make the behavior worse.
Over the time period you are describing, has the amount of exercise your dog gets changed in any way? Is he walking on a different textured surface a lot? As Oscar gets older, he may not be getting the same amount of exercise, which could allow the nails to get a little longer than normal. You could be describing a perfectly normal situation or a situation involving a problem.
If Oscar is not causing any damage to his nails, pads, or feet, this is most likely a change in habit that shouldn't concern you. The only thing you might have to do would be to trim the nails regularly and possible file them to dull the tips.
On the other hand, if this involves an allergy, as has been mentioned by others, you should have Oscar examined by your veterinarian. Another possibility would be that there is an infection of some kind, either bacterial or fungal. These pathogens can get into the nail beds and cause enough irritation to make a dog viciously chew at its nails. Again, if the nails or nail beds look different than normal, have Oscar examined.
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